THE HISTORY MAN: Cambridge remembers Rahmat Ali —Ihsan Aslam
With the passage of time, it seems that the contributions of the likes of Rahmat Ali have been obliterated from Pakistan’s history. Pakistan chooses to forget its national heroes, or turn heroes to zeroes, but Cambridge remembers
“Pakistan stands alone as a country which owes its name to the imagination of one man,” writes Professor KK Aziz in his magnum opus, Rahmat Ali: A Biography. “He is the only man to have given a name to a country many years before that country came into existence... Between his mother’s kisses and the grave he achieved much.”
On a blustery Sunday afternoon, a crowd of about fifty braved the gale-storm weather to gather in Cambridge to remember the man who gave Pakistan its name. Pakistan may have forgotten this man, but Cambridge remembers its sons. When Rahmat Ali died, on February 3, 1951, the local paper, the Daily News, ran an article which read, “It is not without pride that Cambridge may remember Chaudhary Rahmat Ali as creator, in 1933, of the Pakistan Ideal... the world is poorer, also, by the loss of a creative idealist, and a great man”.
One also recalls the words of Edward Welbourne, the Master of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge: “This obscure and single-handed undergraduate of Emmanuel College, who died in Cambridge in the influenza epidemic of the spring of this year  and who is buried in the Newmarket Road cemetery, has influenced world events, and may yet influence the future, more than falls to the lot of most men”.
Welbourne, who had been Rahmat Ali’s tutor, observed in the obituary, “Ideas no doubt already developed in India fermented in his [Rahmat Ali’s] mind, until he issued from his undergraduate lodgings [3 Humberstone Road, Cambridge] a pamphlet [Pakistan Declaration, ‘Now or Never’, 1933], in which he demanded the creation of an independent Muslim state in North India, and gave to it the name now well known, of Pakistan”. Welbourne felt that Rahmat Ali’s “share in the creation of a new and now powerful state might well have been forgotten”. That was in 1951, only four years after independence. With the passage of even more time, it seems that the contributions of the likes of Rahmat Ali have been obliterated from Pakistan’s history. Pakistan chooses to forget its national heroes, or turn heroes to zeroes, but Cambridge remembers.
A good mix of students, locals, and guests from outside had gathered for the Rahmat Ali Memorial Meeting held in Cambridge on February 8. The balanced programme of talks, social interaction, fateha prayers at Rahmat Ali’s grave, and refreshments proved enjoyable and enlightening. One eleven-year-old commented afterwards, “The spicy samosas and pakoras, sandwiches and supreme salad, traditional mithai and the usual tea and biscuits made it a great day”. But more on that later.
Barrister Iqbaluddin Ahmad of London spoke on “Of lawyers and Pakistan”. He said, “The three Muslim barristers — llama Mohammad Iqbal, Choudhary Rahmat Ali, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah — each made a valuable contribution to the case of Pakistan, which appeared on the world map on August 14, 1947. It is for the Pakistanis to protect their freedom and to build a Pakistan they can rightly be proud of, to live in and to leave a strong foundation for future generations”.
Mansoor Raza, President of the Cambridge University Kashmir Society, emphasised the need for dialogue for a peaceful settlement of the long, outstanding issue of Kashmir. He began by reminding everyone “On January 28, 1933, Rahmat Ali coined the name PAKSTAN in a pamphlet titled “Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?” After partition, Rahmat Ali went on to champion the cause of Kashmir through the United Nations”.
The Cambridge University Kashmir Society (www.cuks.org) was set up to promote awareness of Kashmir in all aspects: historical, political and cultural. Dialogue needs to be promoted. The Kashmir Society provides a forum for healthy dialogue on all issues and attempts to bring people together. Mansoor Raza concluded by saying, “I think that the title of the pamphlet produced by Rahmat Ali that originally applied to the formation of Pakistan also applies to the here and now regarding Kashmir: Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?”
A number of students expressed their views after the event. “It was indeed a very rewarding experience. One can only be a proud Pakistani if one knows about the sacrifices and contributions of our national heroes,” said Sohab. “I am so glad that we got a chance to know about Choudhary Rahmat Ali and his efforts,” said Asma. She also highlighted the importance of “generating awareness and unveiling the truth”.
“I found it rather enlightening and enjoyable. Also thanks to the inventors of the Ambala samosa [a massive pyramid of a pastry]!” commented Imran. Saima also felt the event was “enlightening and fun!” Which all goes to show that history is alive and kicking. And, most importantly, that Cambridge remembers its former students with pride. Can Pakistan say the same about its former leaders and national heroes?
Ihsan Aslam is a Cambridge based writer interested in biography and history. He can be contacted at email@example.com or visited at http://www.pakistanhistory.com